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December 23, 2017

Rooting For The Underdog

Explaining the Love Affair Canadians Have With the Backups.

What do John McDonald, Jerome “JYD” Williams, and Brad “Motor City” Smitty have in common?

They all played pro sports in Toronto, were never going to lead the league or their team in any offensive category, and were absolutely loved by fans.

There are so many others you can put into that category; Dave “Tiger” Williams, Ernie Whitt, Matt Bonner…the list goes on and on.

Yes, the superstars get the majority of the love and sell the most jerseys, but there is, at least in Toronto, a love affair fans have with the backups. Even I own a Leafs jersey with #10 for my favourite 4th liner, Bill Berg.

I’ve been accused by some, of being overly complimentary of Ryan Goins, yet he has more supporters than detractors. I don’t defend him because I believe he’s an MVP candidate, it’s because he shares many of the same qualities of all the names mentioned above.

Yes, you need a certain amount of skill to reach the big leagues. I’m sure all of these guys were, at one time, the best on their team, long before they became pros. Once they reached that level however, they realized they needed an intangible quality to stay there.

So what exactly are these qualities and why do we love these players so much? John McDonald may have said it best this past week on Outta the Park “You’re going to walk by me on the street and probably not know it was me. I wanted to be someone people could identify with and say, I could be that guy, and you know what…you could.”

The big stars on each team receive most of the accolades, not to mention, the big bucks, but the average fan can never relate to their world. The limos, the mansions, the never worrying about paying the bills, and never a doubt about playing time. In many ways, they are entitled and most of us cannot relate to that.

John McDonald had to bust his butt to make it to the majors and work even harder to stay there. He didn’t play all that often, but when his number was called, he went out and busted his ass. Guys like McDonald never take a play or an at bat off. They can’t afford to. A star player can hit a ground ball and go half speed to first. You would never see John McDonald do that.

Most of us “regular people” have to work extremely hard to survive, and the backups in pro sports have to do the same. Ok, they still make more money than most of us will ever see, but when it comes to pro athletes, they are as close as you can get to blue collar.

As a member of the media, I can tell you the easiest players to deal with are the backup goalies, 4th outfielders and 12 man on an NBA roster. They are always the best interviews too. They’re the ones most likely to address reporters by name and to ask you how you’re doing, rather than just walking by and saying “Hey”.

For the fans, they are usually the most accessible, the ones who rarely say no to an autograph or selfie request, and take the time to carry on a conversation.

As much as sports needs big stars, it also needs the grinders. The guys who have to earn every penny they make and every appearance they get in a game. The guys that are as close to being like you and me that you can find in someone who gets paid to play sports for a living.

They will never get the big bucks like the Superstars, but at least the underdogs will always have our love.

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